GEMS Education, UAE’s biggest school group, inducts 1,800 new teachers

Dino Varkey, CEO of GEMS Education says the salary freeze has been reversed

HIGHLIGHTS

  • UAE’s biggest school group, which employs 16,000 staff across 70 schools in a dozen countries, can now increase salaries in UAE 
  • School fees continue to plateau with around 80 per cent of UAE schools only able to increase fees by 2% for the new academic year

Dubai: GEMS Education, the UAE’s biggest school group, which employs 16,000 staff across 70 schools in a dozen countries, can now increase salaries after they were frozen due to the group’s inability to raise school fees last year.

School fees continue to plateau with around 80 per cent of UAE schools only able to increase fees by two per cent for the new academic year.

However, speaking to Gulf News after the group inducted 1,800 new teachers on Thursday, Dino Varkey, CEO of GEMS Education, said the salary freeze had been reversed.

“We did have a year where we needed to look at our cost base,” he said. “Now, because we’ve been given visibility of what the future of [school fee] regulations looks like, we are able to commit and essentially almost recover compensation for our teachers.”

This change, Varkey said, had been made in November at the time of contract renewals and the beginning of the hiring process for the new academic year. In the meantime, he said, the freeze had had no effect on GEMS Education’s ability to hire staff, even amid a global teacher shortage.

“We continue to have the ability to be able to recruit the best, primarily because we are seen as the employer of choice in our sector,” he said. “Teaching is still vocational and compensation, although important, is not a primary motivator, so we’ve seen no change in the pace of applications with 200 CVs a day and 300,000 applications.

“A specific decision in a moment in time doesn’t impact on the work we’ve done over 60 years or what we hope to do in the future,” he added of the group, which was founded from a single school in Dubai in 1960.

Of the global teacher shortage, Varkey said: “Globally it is something we need to address but I think we enjoy a competitive advantage at least in the medium term, in terms of being able to hire the right people.

“Long term we will need to do a lot more, if you look at sustainability development goals, the global teacher shortage amounts to about 70 million,” he added, in reference to Unesco statistics from 2016 that claim 69 million new teachers will be needed if every child is to receive primary and secondary education by 2030.

“We may not be able to address that so we are going to have to find ways to ensure that a great teacher can impact greater numbers of students and that’s where technology has a role to play.

“The nature and role of a teacher and what they do within a classroom may also need to shift. There are different things to address but this is more of a long-term issue and it is something that a global community and collective will need to address. It’s not something for an education provider to address it’s something heads of state and society needs to think about how we can overcome that challenge.”

As for how close Dubai and GEMS Education was to feeling the pinch from a lack of educators, Varkey replied: “We’re still talking a 10-20 year cycle before it starts to become an acute challenge. We enjoy a strong position within that, but we are still concerned and doing all we can through the Global Teacher Prize to try and ensure people recognize the importance of the profession,” he said in reference to the annual $1 million prize, which is awarded in Dubai to the world’s best teacher.

Half of Thursday’s 1,800 GEMS teaching inductees were new to the UAE, but Varkey said he had seen no change in demographics.

“We have a large amount of teachers from South Asia and a large amount again from the UK. That closely resembles what we see in the broader economy. Do I see a fundamental change in the demographic breakdown, not necessarily, but we are hiring from places we haven’t hired from before, and that’s just because the UAE still represents an interesting and exciting place for people to teach.”